At first glance, the two films here that share the title Hero could hardly be more different: one is a dramedy about an unassuming good Samaritan (Dustin Hoffman) who rescues several survivors from a crashed plane and promptly disappears back into anonymity, while the other is a period martial arts epic about an assassination plot against China's first emperor. Digging a little deeper, however, reveals both movies were helmed by very good directors (Stephen Frears in 1992, Zhang Yimou in 2002), powered by very talented stars (Hoffman, Geena Davis, and Andy Garcia in 1992; Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, and Tony Leung in 2002), and effective in subverting traditional notions of heroism. That said, while Frears' Hero was a moderate critical and commercial success, Zhang's Hero is a triumph, with stunning action sequences, sumptuous cinematography, and a gripping story based on historical events.
Believe it or not, Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Wallace have a lot in common. Both had multiple nicknames (Wallace rapped as both the Notorious B.I.G and Biggie Smalls; Hitchcock was called Hitch and the Master of Suspense). Both were known for their corpulent bodies. Both were involved in famous beefs (Biggie with 2Pac, Hitch with David O. Selznick). Both used art to reflect on the dark allure of crime and punishment. And though Hitch died before Biggie rose to fame, the rapper gave the great director a shout-out on "What's Beef": "This rap Alfred Hitchcock/ drop top notch playa hating won't stop." However, in the cinematic battle between Hitch's espionage thriller and the Biggie biopic -- both titled Notorious -- the portly Englishman takes the top prize. While the latter received respectful to lukewarm notices, the former is one of Hitchcock's greatest achievements -- Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman burn up the screen as lovers on a mission to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring. And if you don't know, now you know.
It's not really fair to compare 1985's The Protector to the film of the same name that came out 21 years later. We know that. Sure, it's got the built-in headline power of "Jackie Chan vs. Tony Jaa," but that's more than a little disingenuous. When Chan starred in the earlier Protector, a self-serious thriller about an NYC cop (Chan) investigating a kidnapping, he was still virtually unknown to American audiences, so his signature stuntwork and comic energy is nowhere to be found in the film. By contrast, when 2002's Protector opened, audiences were still feeling the incredible rush from Jaa's explosive debut, Ong Bak; all eyes were on him to deliver another knockout, and deliver he did. One particular sequence involves a fantastic, brutal, unbroken long take following Jaa as he ascends several flights of stairs and beats up baddies, and that sequence alone trumps all of Chan's Protector.
Two movies called Red are also two movies about old folks getting their respective mojos back. In the final installment of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy, Valentine (Irene Jacob) meets Joseph (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a reclusive retired judge, after she accidently runs over his dog. Joseph's a pretty cynical old guy, but he eventually opens up to Valentine, who learns that he's been secretly eavesdropping on his neighbors' phone conversations. The folks in 2010's Red are also getting up there in age, and they also know a thing or two about spycraft. Frank (Bruce Willis), Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren) are retired CIA operatives whose extensive institutional knowledge makes them dangerous to the agency. Though the more recent Red might not have garnered the critical praise of the 1994 film, it has lots more explosions. Like, lots more.
The 1948 film Road House is bereft of the most compelling elements of its 1989 namesake -- there are no nationally-famous bouncers, monster trucks, or early morning tai chi sessions to be found here. Instead, the O.G. Road House features a disturbing performance from Richard Widmark as Jeffy Robbins, the psychotic owner of a gritty tavern on the Canadian border. Jeffy is in love with lounge singer Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino), but she's fallen for Jeffy's Road House manager Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde); frame-ups, double-crosses, and shootings ensue. This grim noir has a better Tomatometer than Rowdy Herrington's magnum opus, but for campy fun, few films equal the 1989 film, which features Patrick Swayze at his most brutal and philosophical. Let it roll, baby, roll.
Running Scared is a fairly generic title, but this three-way battle's plain surface masks some intriguing acting matchups -- the 1979 version stars Ken Wahl and Judge Reinhold as Army vets who find themselves at the center of a spy thriller after unwittingly taking a picture of a secret military installation, the 1986 entry stars Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as a couple of bumbling Chicago cops embroiled in a crime war with Jimmy Smits, and the 2005 Scared stars Paul Walker as a low-level Mafia grunt who's told to dispose of a gun but ends up having to hunt it down after it's "borrowed" and used to commit a crime. It's definitely tough to pick a winner here -- Walker is a repeat performer on this week's list, and it's hard to go against Judge Reinhold. But we have to go with the 1986 Running Scared, if for no other reason than the fact that the soundtrack's Top 10 hit, "Sweet Freedom," came with a video starring singer/ex-Doobie Brother/noted '80s beard enthusiast Michael McDonald in a Hawaiian print shirt. Shine, sweet freedom... Shine your light on me...